Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater | Seasonal Squash Aren’t Just for Carving

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODWhen the Colonists first landed in North America they found the Indians growing and using pumpkins. The new Americans were quick to enthusiastically embrace the large round and sometimes ungainly fruit, which is actually a member of the gourd family, and subsequently pumpkin pie became an American tradition.

Today most of us do not hesitate to go out and choose a real pumpkin for our Halloween Jack-o-Lantern, but when it comes to actually cooking this seasonal squash, we tend to forgot that “Eat Local” mantra and all the possibilities of using fresh versus canned. This year, I suggest you shop from local farmers, rather than the canned veggie aisle of your local grocer and make some puree you can freeze and use for months to come.

Okay, I’ll admit it, while it is comforting to have a can or two or organic pumpkin puree on the shelf for back up; it’s easy to put up your own pumpkin puree this season and I am happy to use this post to show you how its done. Fresh pumpkin, like all other varieties of winter squash is abundant in this area and makes for some very fine eating not only in pie, but in custards, ice creams, breads, cookies and muffins as well as savory recipes like soups, salads, pastas, tempura and pureed or baked as a side with grilled or roasted meats and its great for juicing, too.

Whew! Pumpkin is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served with raw veggies and your favorite dip.

These seasonal squash are low in calories, yet abundant in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin is a great source for vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E all are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties. Health benefits aside,  legend and folk lore has it that this grandest of gourd’s is also an aphrodisiac…so all of a sudden, pumpkin season could take on a whole new meaning … just sayin’

In this post I’ve included a recipe originally given to me by my friend Linda Singerlie,  for one of the best pumpkin cheesecakes I have ever tasted. I tweaked it a bit to make it more local with the inclusion of local Una Alla Volta ricotta, local eggs and homemade brown sugar made from organic sugar and local molasses – instructions all to come.

But, before you cook, you must carve…

PCG_carved14_FB_highlightIf you are looking for some  inspiration before you carve, why not join me  and 25 plus other Charlotte chefs, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild on Sunday October 19 at 4 pm for the Guild’s annual fall fundraiser at 7th Street Market in Uptown Charlotte: a family event appropriately dubbed, CARVED. In attendance, skillfully wielding their knives and sharing their pumpkin carving skills will be the likes of Larry Schreiber from the Moffett Restaurant Group; Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery; Chris Coleman from The Asbury; David Feimster from Fahrenheit; Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder; Gregory Collier from The Yolk; Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort; Miles Payne from Little Spoon Eatery; Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine; and Paul Verica from Heritage – just to name a few! For more info about these chefs and their restaurants – check out the links in the “shopping” portion of this post.

In addition to the two hour pumpkin carving competition all of the shops at the Market will be open for business and the Guild will have a tasty apple cider press demonstration complete with samples presented by Coldwater Creek Farms; and a beekeeping demonstration by Art Duckworth of Apple Orchard Farm.

Lenny Boy Brewery will be on hand with a special sweet potato beer.  As a ticket goer, adults will receive a souvenir CARVED 2014 cup good for two (8 oz) pours and one ticket to vote for your favorite pumpkin. The guild will be also be selling more tickets on site if people want to vote more than once.

Advance tickets are still on sale – links to purchase are at the end of this post. Tickets are $10 in advance  or $15 at the door. Kids 18 & under: $5 (unless they bring their own already carved jack-o-lantern and then it’s free!) Proceeds go to Piedmont Culinary Guild and Slow Food Charlotte’s Farmer Fund.

From carving to culinaria

pumkins in the fieldPumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big brusiers for winning awards at county fares and for carving contests. Nothing like a large Jack-o-lantern set out and lit up on the porch designed to welcome treat or treating seasonal guests. Keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of ants and other creepy crawly things may take up residence, to say nothing of the melted wax. That’s all fine, if the plan is to keep the carved pumpkin outside, but if you were planning to cook and eat the pulp after the 31st, then best to buy another pumpkin or two or three for all  your upcoming culinary endeavors this season.

For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh.  Like any other winter squash – butternut, acorn, golden and Hubbard – the skin should be free from blemishes and the pumpkin or squash heavy for its size. Store whole any winter squash, pumpkins et al, at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.

To easily get inside the tough outer shell, place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete – this might be one fun and good way for the kids to help with the process.. The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Remove the pumpkin pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside pumpkin shell. Boil, steam, bake or fry the chunks of pumpkin as you would potatoes, or oven roast by placing the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, cut side down in a large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or an hour and a half or so, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop is of the cooked shell.

For pumpkin puree, mash or process the roasted, boiled or steamed chunks in a processor, blender or by hand. Season to be sweet or savory, as you choose and then use as directed in your favorite recipe. Cooked pumpkin pulp will keep in your freezer for six to eight months.

In addition to being used as a base for many sweet and savory recipes, pumpkin or winter squash puree may also be served on it’s own as you would mashed or creamed potatoes. Simply add a little butter to the puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.

From little seeds, big pumpkins grow

pumpkin heirloom-seeds-740x493The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked. Because you will remove them before setting your Jack-o-lantern outside, you can bake and eat the seed from pumpkins you carve as well as those you cut up and cook.

First, rinse the seeds well, removing all of the pumpkin pulp. Then, pat the seeds dry between several layers of paper toweling. Spread the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a lightly oiled or buttered baking sheet. Season them generously before baking with your favorite spice or spice combination. Use something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or go for a zestier blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin. Toast the seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning them over halfway during the baking time. When the seeds are dry and toasted with a crunchy consistency, remove them for the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy over the course of the next several weeks and months.

 

pumpkin cheesecakePUMPKIN STREUSEL CHEESECAKE

Recipe adapted by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

For the Crust:

2-1/2 cups crushed  graham crackers

3 Tbsp. your favorite cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

For the Filling:

2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

1 (8oz) container Una Volla Alta locally made ricotta cheese (available at Pasta & Provisions)

1 cup organic sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

2 tsp. your favorite Savory Spice Shop cinnamon

1 Tbsp. fresh minced Windcrest farms local organic baby ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 Tbsp.  fresh grated nutmeg

1-1/2 cups of your own fresh made roasted pumpkin puree ( or use an equal amount of organic canned pumpkin)

4 whole local eggs

For the Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar ( i like to make my own by combining about a cup of organic sugar and about 1/4 cup of local Molasses ( I love Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses) – it makes the most delicious brown sugar you will ever eat!)

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup cold butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix well. Press in bottom and up sides of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 10 minutes and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the first seven ingredients  together; add pumpkin and eggs, mix until well blended. Pour into prepared crust; bake 55 minutes on middle rack. Place a shallow cake pan partially full of water on the bottom rack of the oven to provide moist heat in the oven and keep the cheesecake from drying out.

Carefully remove cheesecake and gently sprinkle streusel over the top before returning to oven for another 10 minutes. To help avoid cracking, turn oven off but leave cheesecake in oven with door cracked for a slow cooling process – about 30 minutes or until cheesecake center is set.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate cheesecake at least four hours or preferably overnight in the pan then removed sides and gently slide the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto a cake stand. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and enjoy!

Shopping and Contact info for tickets, products and chefs mentioned in this post:

Visit the events page of the Piedmont Culinary Guild website, to purchase advance tickets for the Oct 19 CARVED event online and remember tickets will also be available at the door

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For all of the spices mentioned in the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe above, visit my friends Amy and Scott McCabe at the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd at Atherton Mill. 2000 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203   980.225.5419

una alla volta

 

Uno Alla Volta cheeses are available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and  at the regional Yorkmont Road Market on Saturdays and at cheese shops around town. For more info visit and “Like” them at  https://www.facebook.com/unoallvoltacheese 

 

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Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses is available by contacting the farm in Bakersville, NC – contact information is on the farm’s website at http://harrellhillfarms.com/molasses.htm 

 

Lots of great area chefs are members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild – for more info or, of you are an interested chef, to become a member yourself, check out the Guild’s website at http://piedmontculinaryguild.com/what-is-the-piedmont-culinary-guild/  

For more info on the chefs and restaurants mentioned in this post, just click on the Urbanspoon or website links here:

Larry Schreiber from Good Food on Montford -Good Food on Montford on Urbanspoon

Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery Earl's Grocery on Urbanspoon

Chris Coleman from The Asbury The Asbury on Urbanspoon

David Feimster from Fahrenheit Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Gregory Collier from The Yolk The YOLK on Urbanspoon

Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Miles Payne from Little Spoon  http://www.littlespooneatery.com/

Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Paul Verica from Heritage Heritage Food and Drink on Urbanspoon

 

The Battle Against Childhood Hunger – Share Our Strength Dinner on Sept 20

NKH_Dinner_email_Charlotte_HeaderNo child should grow up hungry in America,  and yet unbelievably, one in five children struggles with hunger every day. Many of us often talk about how we are starving or famished as we sit down to lunch or dinner; but truth is, if you ate dinner last night or breakfast this morning or have plans for a lunchtime meeting today, you don’t honestly know what hunger really feels like.
Like many of you, I’ve been fortunate to have grown up in a home where we always had food on the table, in the refrigerator and in the pantry; so I can’t say that I know what hunger really feels like: but as a former kindergarten teacher, I have most certainly seen the affects of hunger on children right here in Charlotte.
Kids who are hungry can’t think and they can’t perform at optimum levels. They can’t listen to direction and so they often get in trouble –  all because they simply haven’t had anything to eat.  Unable to reach they’re true potential, hungry kids are too tired or don’t have the strength to really enjoy all their young lives have to offer. This isn’t a problem we just read about in the news or something that happens to someone else in some other country – its a problem right here in Charlotte and its time for it to end.
You can help Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign in ending childhood hunger in this nation, in this state and in this city by connecting kids in need with nutritious food and teaching families how to cook healthy, affordable meals.
You can help surround kids with the nutritious food they need where they live, learn and play by making a pledge today to make No Kid Hungry a reality at NoKidHungry.org.
Charlottean Tom Sasser,  owner of the Harper’s Group in Charlotte as been on the campaign to help stamp out childhood hunger in our life time for many years now; and the team from Mimosa Grill as been among the front runners is heading up the cause.
Chefs Jon Fortes, Joe Cornett and Thomas Marlow

Chefs Jon Fortes, Joe Cornett and Thomas Marlow

I met and got to know Mimosa Grill’s Executive Chef Jon Fortes, last year as he battled his way through the  2013 Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series, Fire In the City  to become the Champion here last year.

This year Jon and the team from Mimosa Grill are 2014 Fire In the City contenders. They love  the competition, but Jon says the No Kid Hungry battle to end childhood hunger is the most important one he will ever fight.  And he’s bringing in some big guns to help fight the battle….
Join Jon and Mimosa chefs Thomas Marlow, Joe Cornett and Donald Ivey; along with guest chefs Colin Bedford from The Fearrington HouseVivian Howard from Chef & the FarmerJay Swift, 4th & Swift Restaurant and Bar; and Joe Trull, Grits and Groceries as they team together to battle hunger on Saturday, Sept 20, all a part of one spectacular event.  I am delighted to announce that I will be there covering it all, snapping photos of chefs, guests and food, tweeting out course by course and hoping to help create an awareness of the cause.
I am even more delighted to report, that there are still tickets available for this fabulous event, so you can be there too!
Jon Fortes won his preliminary Competition Dining Fire in the City battle last week and will go on to fight the quarter final battle on Sept 16. As of Monday Sept 8, all of the 2014 Got To Be NC Fire In the City Competition Dining quarter final, semi final and grand finale battles are now sold out; but here’s a great opportunity to see Jon Fortes and Mimosa Grill’s team No Kid Hungry  in action and help make a difference along the way.
NKH_Charlotte (2)

Fire in the City Competition Dining 2014 | Charlotte Chefs are Hot to Get This Party Started

The GotToBeNC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination culinary tournament of chefs, highlights the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent. North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport starts in Charlotte on August 18, 2014 when sixteen local chefs will go up one against the other, head to head, battle by battle in Charlotte’s own Fire in the City culinary competition.Each Fire in the City dinner takes place at the beautiful Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located at 1829 Cleveland Ave in historic SouthEnd. The  Bonterra kitchen provides a neutral battle field for these chefs from restaurants all around the city. The chefs come in around 11 or so, and following the lead of Chef Refs Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, take stock of what foodstuffs are available to them to use from the mobile pantry and then sit down for a presentation from Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen, to learn the details on the secret ingredient for the evening. Then they get cooking till its time to plate and serve upwards of 150 guests each evening of the competition  – the fun and festivities each evening kick off at 7 pm.

There is nothing else like it any place else, you could say its the Sweet Sixteen of Charlotte’s culinary community.  To paraphrase Oprah, what I know for sure is, YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS IT!  To make it even more fun, at each Competition Dining dinner two teams of talented chefs must each prepare their three courses using a secret or featured ingredient that comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. Award winning NC wines and local NC craft beers are also featured at each dinner.  Competition Dining is all about things Grown, Raised, Caught and Made in the great state of North Carolina.

Heidi with the city crew

Heidi Billotto with all of the 2014 Fire in the City chefs standing in front of the mobile pantry

 

And the best part is, you get the be the judge! At each dinner – or culinary battle – you, the diner, will delight in savoring six courses without knowing which chef prepared each dish. Its a blind tasting of sorts and as you eat, you’ll rate each plate using a specially designed interactive app which you will download on your smart phone. No smartphone, you say? No worries! The tech talented team at HitsTech, Competition Dining’s NC based tech support team, are on site and have smart phones you can borrow for the evening.

At meals end, final scores are revealed and just like you see on Iron Chef or Chopped, one team moves on to the next round and one team goes home.

And for the winner…

At stake for the series winner. along with the all important braggin rites, is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Charlotte’s Own, Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.”

Additionally, the Fire In The City winning team moves on to the Final Fire Battle of Champions.
Hosted in Raleigh this November, the Final Fire will pit the Fire in the City winner up against other regional winners from 2014 competition dining series in the mountains (Fire on the Rock), the coast (Fire on the Dock), Fire in the Triad (Winston Salem Greensboro and High Point) and Fire in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) to crown a statewide winner.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODThe Fire in the City Official Blog

As the official blogger of Fire in the City series and now the social media maven for Competition Dining across the state ( that’s me behind all of the Competition Dining Tweets and Facebook post) I’ll be there at every battle.  covering all the action, tweeting and facebooking along  the way and then posting the recap with notes on my favorite dishes and details on the  secret ingredients here on these blog pages each morning after.

If you want to follow along during each battle, periodically check  the Competition Dining Facebook page through the evening or follow along on Twitter by searching #CompDiningNC. Feel free to post your own ooohs and aaaahs as the food photos and course descriptives are posted and by all means, don’t hesitate to post your own comments on the action or in support of your favorite chefs along the way.

I can tell you from experience, that one or two nights of following along on the social media and you’re going to wish you were there in person. These dinners are like eating dinner at TWO of your favorite Charlotte restaurants at the same time and I can promise, its the most fun you’ll ever have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening! So, Don’t Miss Out on this incredible culinary experience.

Make your reservations now, simply click here and then select each individual battle to link to that specific reservation page.

For more information about where you will find these chefs and their restaurants, outside of Competition Dining, follow the links to restaurant websites at the bottom of this page

as a PNG - charlotte living peice

I encourage you to go and dine with each of the Got To Be NC  Fire In The City chefs at their own individual restaurants, outside of all the Competition Dining fun, as well –

Here they are with links to their websites: 

Chef Luca Annunziate – Passion 8 – http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef Clark Barlowe – Heirloom Restaurant – http://www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com/ Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chef Tom Dyrness – Mama Ricotta’s - http://mamaricottasrestaurant.com/home/ Mama Ricotta's on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Mottola  – e2 Emeril’s Eatery- http://www.emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Chef David Feimster – Fahrenheit - http://www.chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-charlotte/ Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Chef David Quintana – Southminster- http://www.southminster.org/exquisite-dining/

Chef David Moore – Gallery Restaurant – http://www.gallery-restaurant.com/ Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Chef Ben Phillpott – Block and Grinder -http://blockandgrinder.com/ Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Chef Brent Martin – The Summit Room- http://www.thesummitrm.com/ The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Spencer – Epic Chophouse and Chillfire Bar and Grill- http://www.epicchophouse.com/ Epic Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Chef Chris Coleman – The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel - http://www.theasbury.com/ The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Williams – Upstream - http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp Upstream on Urbanspoon

Chef Nicholas Daniels – The Wooden Vine - http://thewoodenvine.com/ The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef  Paul Ketterhagen – Carpe Diem - http://www.carpediemrestaurant.com/ Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Fortes – Mimosa Grill - http://www.harpersgroup.com/mimosa.asp Mimosa Grill on Urbanspoon

Chef David “Sully” Sullivan – The Fish Market – http://www.fishmarketbarandgrill.com/ Fish Market Seafood Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

August and September On the Farm and At Home with Heidi Cooking Classes

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgAugust 1, 2014 – Anyone can cook, Let Heidi Billotto show you how to make it fun! Two terrific On the Farm cooking class offerings and several seasonal At Home with Heidi events coming up and  I know you are going to love every one!.

For each of my cooking classes, I team up with my friend, wine guru, Josh Villapando from the Assorted Table Wine Shop to offer wine pairings with every course in each class; and the opportunity to purchase the wines we taste in class directly from Josh – take a bottle home and enjoy it all over again.

My cooking class participants will also receive coupons good toward purchases at the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd  on South Blvd. and Pour Olive Artisan Olive Oil Shoppe on East Blvd.

I invite you to register for any one of these hands-on classes simply by emailing me  to make your advance reservation.

Remember, never any hard and fast rules at my classes – if you would rather just watch, sit back ,eat and drink and enjoy instead of trying your hand, that’s fine too – just come and have fun!

Looking forward to cooking up a storm with you real soon!

On the Farm at New Town Farms | Saturday August 2 | 11 am – 3:30 pm | Farm Tour and Cooking Class

sammy at the marketCome and meet farmers Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg of New Town Farms in Waxhaw, NC. Join us as we visit with the heritage breed chickens and pigs, collect eggs and see the seasonal produce in and out of greenhouses. You’ll hear all about Sammy’s farming philosophy and, we’ll cook with all the farm has in season. I guarantee, it’ll change the way you think about the food you buy and the way you eat.   The day includes a cooking class, wine parings, generous samples, recipe packets and a fabulous farm tour.

Cost $75 per person         Email Heidi to make your reservation

 

COOKING WITH SUMMER HERBS | At Home with Heidi | Saturday August 9 | 11am – 2 pm

herbs Fresh herbs have been planted and are growing and now its time to cook.

This class offers a host of fun new ideas for using you herb garden  harvest to season and spice. Four courses, wine pairings, growing and  preserving tips too.

 Cost is $65             Email Heidi  to make your reservations.

 

 

On The Farm at Windcrest Organic Farms & Greenhouses | Its Tomato Time! | Sun August 10 | 1-4 pm

mary tomatoes from Windcrest Its tomato time and this class is all about what to do when  there are    too many tomatoes and you can’t eat them fast  enough.

We’ll use them to make ketchup, salsa and a host of  sauces as well as  my famous summertime tomato pie and  the best fried green tomato    and goat cheese stack you’ve  ever had. Wine pairings as always, plus a tour and Mary  Roberts take on growing organic – don’t miss it!

Cost is $75 per person      Email Heidi to make your reservations

 

 

Its For The Birds | Cooking with Chicken, Duck & Quail | At Home with Heidi| Sat Aug 16 |  11am – 2 pm

chickenThe name says it all – great recipes for family  friendly dishes featuring chicken, quail, duck  and maybe local turkey too.

We’ll pan sear, roast, braise and cook on the grill – you’re gonna love it!

Cost $65 per person             Email Heidi to make your reservation

 

 

Gluten Free Gourmet |At Home with Heidi | Saturday July 26 | 11 am – 2 pm

gluten free chestnut flour breadAll new recipes for those who want to eat well and make it gluten free -for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and the best Gluten free bread and rolls you’ve ever had! Wine pairings always included.

Cost is $65 per person       Email Heidi to make your advance reservations  

 

 

Patio Picks – Do it Dining al Fresco

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODDining al fresco – the art of eating outdoors is a pleasure that combines casual atmosphere, fresh air, cool breezes and great food and beverage. The venue can range from family style BBQ and picnic tables or even your car at places like BBQ King on Wilkinson Blvd. or Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street to a setting with comfy patio furniture seating at places such as Osso Restaurant and Lounge at the Music Factory and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Dilworth.

Lots of restaurants with patios offer opportunities for dining al fresco throughout the year, but late spring, summer and on into early fall is the time we want to enjoy the out of doors as much as we can. So lap up the sunshine or sit in the cool comfort of the summer shade. Join your kids in a game of shuffleboard at the patio at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood while you wait for a table at breakfast or brunch; take in the splendor of our city’s skyline from the highest heights atop the patio at Chef Rocco Whalen’s Fahrenheit Restaurant  at the Hyatt Place Hotel uptown; or enjoy food, wine and occasional music at several eateries or wine shops with outdoor dining and tastings such as Napa on Providence in Eastover; and Vin Masters in SouthEnd.

Alfresco dining in the Queen City can range from large venues, such as the patio at Mimosa Grill, Uptown that over looks the plaza and a bustling sections of Tryon Street to small, much like the patio at Fenwicks on Providence Road,  with just a few tables on the front porch of this neighborhood gathering spot

Great patios to see and be seen abound at local breweries in NoDa; bars and restaurants surrounding the Music Factory; and in shopping “villages” around town where several restaurants might have patios grouped together off a main courtyard as at Ballantyne Village where patios from Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe and Villa Antonio meet; or off South Main Street in Davidson where the back porch patio of the Pickled Peach looks over the patio behind Summit Coffee nestled up to an adjacent playground – on Saturday mornings this “common area” is home to the Davidson Farmers’ market where locavores can enjoy combine their morning coffee al fresco with a little fresh from the farm shopping trip.

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Tis the season, indeed, and so my June restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway features five of my favorite places to dine al fresco with some of my favorite summer menu selections as well… enjoy!

toscana logoWe’ll start with what I have always thought to be one of the most romantic patios in town, Toscana, located in Shops on the Park across from SouthPark, 6401 Morrison Blvd. 704.367.1808. Like all of Augusto Conte’s magical restaurants, the menu at Toscana offer high quality fresh made Italian fare and the patio is like sitting off a small village side street in Tuscany. Comfortable seating surrounded by a shrub lined fencing keeps it tight and cozy, A beautiful fountain offers the cool comfort and pleasant sounds of a water feature and  large pots of herbs define the heritage.  In the evenings the open sky view add the romance of moonlight and the stars. One of our favorite dishes at Toscana is the gnocchi, tender potato pillows bathed in a light fresh tomato sauce touched with basil and mozzarella – add a bottle from the well appointed wine list – perfecto! Toscana on Urbanspoon
Wp white logoNot far from Toscana, is Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza bar located in the Phillips Place shopping center 704.295.0101 Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. The patio is off to the side of the restaurant, away from parking and much foot traffic and offers a cozy comfortable place to great place to getaway from it all.  Perfect for business meetings, ladies who lunch or a midday tete-a-tete.  While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  While Wolfgang himself does occasionally make appearances at the restaurant, day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. We now enjoy WP as our go to after the movies spot and our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for the two of us to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)Next, Tupelo Honey at 1820 South Blvd. 980-225-9167. The restaurant and patio are located on the second level of the historic SouthEnd Building,  take the stairs or the elevator up and the fun begins. The restaurant is full of action and a buzz most of the time, so the patio offers a lovely slightly quieter dining option. Great for families or dinners for two, big overhead fans keep the climate cool and in case of inclement weather their are outdoor curtains drawn to keep the rain away. The vibe at Tupelo is reconstructed Southern and it is exceptionally well done from soup to nuts. Great service and an assortment of wonderful craft cocktails and local beers round out the experience. Must tries this season include the sweet potato pancakes ( breakfast is served whenever you want it at Tupelo), the black bean burger and tofu wings (three cheers for some great vegetarian options), the fabulous Southern Popcorn ( aka fried okra) and the Carolina Mountain Trout with Goat cheese grits – shooo mercy! and Tupelo’s own Brown Butter Pecan Pie.  Look for bar specials on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ( the least crowded days and nights to dine at this Charlotte favorite); and while you are there shop for cookbooks, Tupelo’s biscuit mix and of course, jars of Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

summit logoThe Summit Room at 1531 East Blvd. 980.237.2227 is one of Charlotte’s newest places to dine al fresco. In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening.

Several years ago the Dilworth Communtiy made it a mission to  drive neighborhood foot traffic with more pedestrian friendly streetside dining. As a result,  many neighborhood places on the boulevard offer patio dining but not many do it better than this. Rocking chairs with side tables on the porch, patio tables in the sun or under umbrellas –  its a great place for everything from power lunches to a glass of wine or tea – with two very different dining concepts. At  The Summit Room, Chef Martin doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible and  my new favorite – a quenelle (or oval shaped scoop) of chicken liver mousse atop a house made waffle with candied and pickled fruit and microgreens is a real winner! The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

va de vie logo

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Finally, the newest patio on our list for today, at just a month old, is to be found in the unlikeliest of locations: the center of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot!  This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato at Va da Vie Gelato, 4203 Park Road 980.201.9159  … owners John and Wendy Paglia use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment.  During the heat of the  day enjoy the cool marble-lined comfort inside; and  in the evening mix and mingle on the patio with friends and neighbors of all ages, comparing flavors and deciding which one you will order next. Va da Vie Gelato on Urbanspoon

 

To watch the restaurant segment that  inspired this blog post and originally aired on WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today, simply click on the  caption of the photo of Toscana’s beautiful Italian Patio, then go out and enjoy al fresco dining in Charlotte for yourself.

 

 

The heat is on and headed your way – Competition Dining cruises the state of North Carolina Preaching the Gospel of Eating and Drinking Local

BlackCompDiningLogoThe competition is heating up – that’s the Got To Be NC Competition Dining, of course, and as of this spring time post, NC favorite culinary sport is well on it way into is 2014 season. With Fire on the Dock on the NC coast and Fire in the Rock in the Boone, Blowing Rock, Asheville area now over and decided, the Fire in the Triad series is now in the semi final stage. Next up, Fire in the Triangle and then  its Charlotte’s turn at Fire in the  City.

I've cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte's Fire in the City preliminary rounds - check it out at the end of this blog!

I’ve cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte’s Fire in the City preliminary rounds – check it out at the end of this blog!

If you have followed this blog from its inception, you will know that in 2013 I was named the Official Blogger for the  2013 Fire in the City Competition Dining series. This year the competition comes to Charlotte for another much anticipated season; so anticipated, in fact, that even though the competing chefs and brackets have yet to be named, ticket sales are already brisk.

Charlotte’s Fire in the City takes place starting August 18 – Sept 29,  and I have a special deal for you at the end of this post for $10 off each ticket, so you’ll have to act quickly - but more about that later – for now you don’t have to wait to join in all the fun.

As many of you know since the beginning of the  Greensboro – Winston-Salem – High Point, Fire in the Triad series, I have been working for my friend Jimmy Crippen and Competition Dining, handling social media, coming up with fun promotions and helping to be a liason between the competition, chefs, diners, local ingredients and more telling the story all along the way. In the Triad I have had the pleasure of meeting many talented chefs and their families, and have been happy to tell their stories.

The Sixteen triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

The Sixteen Triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

This week marks the semi finals of the Triad Fire, down to the wire, last night and tonight   May 27 and 28 will determine which two triad chefs go to the final battle on Monday June 2 which will determine the Fire in the Triad champion.

Ready, set, cook... Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Ready, set, cook… Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Last night the heat was on in the first semi final battle between two culinary talents found in Chef Tim Thompson from Marisol Restaurant in Greensboro and Chef Mark Grohman from Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem. These two stand up guys and their teams had great fun during the day but all the while took the task of preparing six courses for 140+ guests quite seriously.

 

pepsi and peanuts

 

 

 

As with all Competition Dining battles, this one revolved around two signature North Carolina ingredients – Pepsi and peanuts!  The tradition, now a fun bar trick, of putting peanuts in a bottle of glass of Pepsi started on local NC farms – the farm help couldn’t carry a glass or bottle and a bite to eat and still have all hands on deck to do the work; so they combined the snack and beverage and at the end of each row, took a swig to get a drink and something to munch on at the same time. Today its a fun combination of sweet and salty that remains a crowd pleaser!

The evening was full of excitement and in the end it was chef Tim Thompson  and his team from Greensboro’s Marisol Restaurant that took the win. Chefs each had a large box of shelled peanuts from the American Peanut Co. in North Carolina and 2 1/2 gallons of Pepsi syrup with which to work.

To my mind, the most successful savory  courses this evening, I thought, cleverly added spice of Sambal and a local NC Sriracha called Cha! produced by the makers of Texas Pete. The hot and spice counteracted the sweet in the savory courses and then chefs played up the peanut and Pepsi combo in dessert. Here are some shots of the behind the scene action during the day, the final dishes with a bit of my editorial in the descriptives and more…

Course One - Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

Course One – Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

COURSE 1 by Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol was one of Marisol’s highest scoring plates of the evening right out of the shoot. It was comprised of a Heritage Farms Pork tenderloin, rubbed with Lusty Monk mustard, local honey, roasted garlic fresh rosemary and Dijon mustard; then served with a wasabi aioli,  a ginger-Pepsi red cabbage slaw, a peanut-sambal Puree,  and a swirl of Pepsi “Liquer”

 

Course 2 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 2 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Chef Mark Grohman and the team from Meridian offered COURSE 2 a Pepsi braised  Cheshire Farm pork butt, wrapped in Swiss chard and served with a, Potato- Peanut Gratin, Grilled Brocollini,  and Texas Pete Cha!-Pepsi Reduction

 

Course 3 - Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 3 – Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

COURSE 3 went back the Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol. the focus on the plate was a very successful peanut – panko crusted Veal Milanese with a Coffee-Bacon-Brown Sugar-Pepsi Veal Stock Reduction and a side of Dijon Garlic Mash potatoes, and Micro Greens dressed with a honey sherry vinegar and a whole grain mustard emulsion

 

Course 4 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 4 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

COURSE 4 from Chef Mark Grohman and team Meridian cam as a Bacon Wrapped  roulade of veal stuffed with a clever shiitake and peanut Duxelle and served with a sweet potato apple puree, delicious caramelized onion Brussels sprouts,  and a blueberry Pepsi® reduction

And then the chefs wowed the crowd’s collective sweet tooth with  desserts….

 

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

In COURSE 5, team Marisol offered Pepsi Cheesecake, with a peanut graham cracker crust,  a side of salted caramel ice cream, and a Pepsi infused chocolate sauce

 

 

Course 6 - from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 6 – from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

And finally in COURSE 6 every enjoyed a step back to their childhood – or perhaps their last camping trip – with Meridian’s take on the classic S’more… this time made with roasted peanuts, a Bruleed Pepsi Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate,  and hand crafted peanut brittle

If you are in the Winston-Salem or Greensboro area you should definitely make reservations at both Meridian and Marisol and see just what Chefs Mark Grohman and Tim Thompson and their talented teams do on a regular basis when they are not in the throws of competition.

For more info on Mark Grohman’s Meridian, visit  Meridianws.com, or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here  Meridian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

For more info on Tim Thompson and Marisol, TheMarisol.com  or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here

Marisol on Urbanspoon

Meanwhile – here are some backstage shots of Marisol and Meridian chefs at work enjoying North Carolina’s newest culinary sport of Competition Dining…

 

DSC_1056Chef Mark Grohman in the thick of things and then with his team, chefs Levi Harris and Vernon James Ealey

 

 

 

 

Tim Thompson

Finally got Chef Tim Thompson to  look up from peeling potatoes and give the camera a smile!

team marisol in action

           

Team Marisol in action during prep – Wayne Atkins in the back making the cheesecake, Tim Thompson center and Marvin Merida making strawberry flowers

all the May 27 chefsAll of the chefs  from semi final teams Marisol and Meridian after the battle with Pate Dawson – Southern Foods chef refs, Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, center and Chef Laura from The Elm Center, Painted Plate Catering

and now for the special offer for Fire in the City Tickets….

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODAs A Thank You for reading this blog post by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto, we would like to offer you the unique opportunity to purchase discounted tickets to a dinner or dinners at North Carolina’s newest Culinary Sport

Competition Dining’s Fire in the City

Preliminary Dinners take place August 18 – September 3

Quarter Finals Semi Finals and Final Fire held September 8 – 29

All dinners will take place at Bonterra Restaurant on Worthington Ave. in Charlotte, but reservations must be made online

Competing chefs will be announced in early August – check this link for details – http://www.competitiondining.com/events/fire-in-the-city or follow Heidi on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or Heidi Billotto Cooks or on Twitter at @HeidiCooks or subscribe to this blog.

In the meantime, to receive $10 off the purchase of any preliminary round ticket, make your purchases before midnight on May 31 using the following links

Aug 18 – https://cityprelim1.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 19 – https://cityprelim2.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 20 – https://cityprelim3.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 25 – https://cityprelim4.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 26 – https://cityprelim5.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 27 – https://cityprelim6.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 2 – https://cityprelim7.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 3 – https://cityprelim8.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

To make reservations for any of the Fire in the Triangle Competition  Dining battles in Raleigh visit, the Fire in the Triangle page of the Competition Dining website

To make reservations for any of Charlotte’s Fire in the City in Charlotte quarter finals, semi finals or Final Fire visit, the Fire in the City page of the Competition Dining website